April 6 marked the centennial of the United States' entry into World War I. The Atlanta History Center has been commemorating this monumental event with four exhibits exploring the war.
The third exhibit opens this Saturday. Called “Uncle Sam Wants You! World War I and the American Poster,” it features 60 rare World War I posters commissioned by the United States government.
The posters went beyond recruitment. They were meant to sway public opinion.
“It was to make the causes of the war real and immediate to even, as one artist said, the most unobservant people,” explained Gordon Jones, the Atlanta History Center’s senior military historian and “Uncle Sam Wants You!” co-curator. “Remember that prior to the declaration of war ... Woodrow Wilson had run in 1916 on the slogan, he kept us out of the war. And now, all of a sudden, we have to commit all of our resources and population to this war effort.”
The posters come from the collection of Atlanta historian Walton Rawls, who published the book “Wake Up, America! World War I and the American Poster” in 2001.
Jones and his co-curator, education coordinator Kevin Edmiston, remarked how these posters had guilt-inducing messaging. And because of the themes in the posters and in the prolific number, they suggested how the posters represent a new type of marketing in the United States.
“These had to attract a lot of different types of people so this marketing was done in a specific way,” said Edmiston. “An entire nation went to war overnight essentially. … An entire country that was on the sidelines was now an active leader in the war and in the peace as well.”
"Uncle Sam Wants You! World War I and the American Poster” is on view through March 2018.